Friday, May 16, 2008

Just the Facts (Well, Maybe a LIttle Editorial Comment)

I attended both the Alliance for Education breakfast and the first community meeting on the Strategic Plan at Roosevelt. I have some thoughts about the Plan but that's for another post. I thought I let you know how it went.

So the Alliance event was hopping (who knew so many people could get up and be there that early?). Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance, let the group of usual suspects know that there were 800 of us there. There was former mayor, Norm Rice, current mayor, Greg Nickels, Rob McKenna, Brian Sontag, Terri Bergeson, Ed Murray, Tim Burgess, etc. and every Board member but Mary Bass.

(Just an aside but I hate going to events where getting to the main point of the event takes a really long time. I appreciate that everyone in power wants (feels?believes?) they should be acknowledged or maybe it's just that it shows how many people support public education but I have to believe that these VIPs really wanted the event to start and end on time.)

Getting past a children's choir (from Leschi and cute as buttons), the principal award of excellence (to Kaaren Andrews of Madrona K-8), the Alliance in Action (talking about math efforts at Denny Middle), the Mayor's welcome, we finally got to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.

The Mayor spoke about the Kalamazoo Promise - apparently this city offers a scholarship (with few requirements) to every public school student. He said we need universal pre-K in Seattle. I absolutely agree but it should be state and national as well. I honestly believe that if you had to pick a top 3 or 5 things to do for public education in this country that would be one of them. Achievement gap? Yup, it starts as early as 2 or 3 and kids are so bright at that age and soak up information like sponges. But he didn't offer how this could happen.

He said there are 2 hurdles to better schools in Washington state; the political will and everyone needing to look in the mirror and asking how to support high expectations in our schools. He mentioned a goal of top 10 by 2010, meaning Seattle would be one of the top districts in the country by 2010. I want my district to be doing the best job it can for our students and if we do that, any ranking will be icing on the cake.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, as Charlie has mentioned, was in fine form. Except, of course, she found people to thank as well (her husband, her mother and her cousins).

She was determined and spoke forcefully. There was little of the defensive tone that she can sometimes take on. She noted that the Mayor and Jon Bridge (board chairman for the Alliance and one of the Bridges in the Ben Bridge jewelry chain) had an op-ed in the Times that morning in support of SPS.

She went over what she had been doing for the last year in gathering information. She talked about the differences in school populations saying there "were families in great poverty and families in great privilege". I personally thought that was not the greatest phrasing. The fact that many families in "great privilege" (and how she defines that term is not clear) do attend and support SPS should be noted.

She mentioned having a working reserve but didn't mention the need to cut $16M from the budget. I'm sure some people might think that we wouldn't need cuts but the reserve is really for emergencies and it would be folly to cut into it.

She bravely brought up some fairly sobering facts about SPS; the graduation rate, that 33% of our 3rd graders are struggling to read and only half our students are meeting math standards by 7th grade. She also noted the number of students in private schools and the district's declining enrollment.

But she also said this district had assets that many other urban districts would envy like a strong teacher corps, a strong School Board, a mayor and city council who stand ready to help and the Alliance for Education.

She talked about attracting and retaining strong teachers, aligning the math and science curriculum, recognizing high performing schools, beefing up the district's infrastructure and, to me, one very important goal. She wants to "align the budget to match priorities". And, as well, not fund programs we can't sustain. She said the district wants measurable results and transparency.

(On the subject of transparency, the last School Board, so widely maligned, did more to open up this district for scrutiny than any previous Board in recent memory. Everything that comes after is because they started the ball rolling.)

Her talk seemed well received. It felt very good to be in a room with people who had energy and good spirits and want to work to bring our schools up.

I also want to acknowledge the sponsors of the event because these companies, by their presence and dollars, are committed to our schools. Wells Fargo, Boeing, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington Mutual, Pace (which is an on-line service that allows you to use your credit card to support your school, www.4pace.com), Amgen, Ben Bridge, Group Health, First Choice Health, HomeStreet Bank, Pyramid Communications (the firm that did many of the reviews of the district), Wachovia Securities and many others. One interesting thing was the list of Special Thanks and listed was the Rainer Beach Boys' Basketball team - a puzzler.

I received a postcard in the mail - yesterday - saying the Alliance had raised over $300,000 at the Breakfast for our schools.

Roosevelt Meeting

There were about 80 parents plus many staff as well as most of the Board. Dr. Goodloe Johnson was fairly pro forma in her talk. I'm not going to blame her because I know the day started for her (or anyone who went to the Alliance Breakfast) a 6 in the morning and it was now 7:30 at night.

We divided into groups based on 5 subjects:
  • Ensure excellence in every classroom
  • Strengthen leadership throughout the system
  • build an infrastructure that works well
  • monitor progress at all levels (performance management)
  • improve stakeholder engagement
I will try to see if the information listed with each topic gets posted at the district's website as it was detailed in what would be happening in each of this topics. In my group I was interested to see the focus will be on math and science, providing student-level data, and creating a school performance framework (which might include what they called a "School Performance Framework" that would "identify where schools are along a spectrum of excellence". It would be piloted during the 2009-10 school year.

We were told we could change groups at any time but it wasn't easy to do so I was at the excellence in every classroom group. The issues that were brought up were:
  • how to help schools that have clearly different populations and needs? District teams are being forms to follow that each school has improvement plans.
  • how to get to alignment for math and science when many teachers don't like/aren't trained for math and science? The district staff conceded that most teachers are "literacy" people but insist that training will get them there.
  • class sizes? I was a little surprised at how the staff waffled on this question (unfortunately for them a teacher was there to let parents know that the state and contractual issues are the biggest part of class size).
  • how to get more teachers with math and science degrees? This question got a lame no-answer.
  • CMP is unpopular? Again, not much of an answer.
  • What about arts? They have hired an Arts manager (I've heard little about this) but no, the focus is going to be on math and science, not art, world languages, etc.
  • Direction from teachers? Yes, they are working with the SEA.
  • Will the Secondary BOC program be going away? Not according to Carla Santorno, CAO
When the arts question came up in a Q&A later, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson mentioned an arts levy. That's a new one.

There were a number of NE parents who made their presence known. I have to believe that this situation will get righted by an assignment plan. However, I can see where, for the term of their child's elementary school experience, being in larger classes in a full to the brim school would not be their first choice. I was telling Denise G-Walker that this has happened in middle and high school (see Eckstein and Roosevelt0 but that I didn't know of hardly any times where this occurred at an elementary level (with both larger class sizes AND schools overfilled).

Did anyone attend the community meeting last night at West Seattle High? If you did, let us know how that went.


Teachermom said...

I went to the Roosevelt meeting, and thought it was pretty interesting. I thought Goodloe-Johnson sounded pretty good, but still gave answers that weren't really answers at times. I was impressed that she presented as well as she did at the end of a very long day, and she was ready to get out of there at 8:30.

I liked the small groups that we broke off into, but I didn't feel that our facilitator was very prepared or knowledgeable. I was in the group that discussed hiring/professional practices. We had some worthwhile discussion, but people did come in with agendas and we had to hear about things that had little to do with the topic at hand. But I did feel a little listened to, and it was nice to be there with people who are passionate about change. And everyone was very polite and respectful, IMO.

dan dempsey said...

She talked about attracting and retaining strong teachers, aligning the math and science curriculum,

OK - I give up.
Alignment with what??

Surely she can not be speaking to alignment with the National Math Advisory Panel recommendations in the document Foundations for Success published on March 13, 2008.

She allowed Linda Hoste and Rosalind Wise to deliver the Interactive Math Program sales pitch at the board's HS Math work session in April. Clearly no NMAP alignment there.

She is allowing Ms. Santorno to continue with the Everyday Math pacing plan. No NMAP alignment there.

She has not said that Schmitz Park can continue with the 100% Singapore math they used this 2007-2008 school year. Ms. Santorno may still order Schmitz Park to use Everyday Math next year. No NMAP alignment there. (It is now mid-May a decision will be coming when???)

It seems clear that Math alignment means everyone doing what SPS admin dictates. Everyone needs to be aligned with SPS Centralized Math whims.

Really folks that alignment is not going to improve math performance significantly in the SPS. It will however continue to drive teachers concerned about the math performance of their students into other school districts and to other states.

MG-J talked about attracting and retaining strong teachers -- obviously she was not talking about math teachers.

For K-3 success why not try following the advice of the largest study in the history of education.
PFT specifically addressed how to bring disadvantaged learners to academic success in the k-3 grades.

Typical of the SPS they ignore the results of the largest study in education history.

Project Follow Through

Doug Carnine

Foundations For Success from NMAP

2004 MSSG

The Math Underground

dan dempsey said...

Lest some one think I am being overly dramatic about driving teachers into other States, consider the case of Ed S.

Ed came to the SPS from teaching in Harlem in NYC. He thought math in Seattle would be a step up from NYC.

Ed said that no it turned out to be a step down, in fact a significant step down. Ed left the SPS after two years.

Ed is now teaching in Argentina.

Unknown said...

Anything in the grand vision about safety in public schools? We have been advocates for SPS for years ... and now have had to pull our child out, disillusioned and furious (him as well as us), because he was bullied, harassed, and assaulted for months at what's supposed to be one of the district's better schools ... and nothing was done to the perpetrators. Not even a perfunctory restatement to the student population about bullying awareness. Until the district promises a safe and welcoming environment for every student, and deals harshly with those who get in the way of that goal, we cannot support it. Bullying gets in the way of a good education. You can't just deal with it by tacking platitudes and exhortations up on the school walls and saying, look, we're a bully-free environment. (Oh, and I would suggest that when someone abruptly pulls their child from SPS in the middle of a school year, there might be a district employee somewhere who contacts that family to say "why did you leave?" and reports back to the superintendent. Instead, I suspect the staff at the former school had a party to celebrate the fact we won't be bothering them any more to demand action to protect our child.)

I hate seattle schools said...

We have also been concerned with safety in SPS. Mainly a lack of supervision at the elementary school level. One of the schools our son attended had all school recess, in which 300 students were out on the playground with the principal and one playground supervisor. A 300 to 2 ratio in elementary, with lax rules, is an accident waiting to happen, and needless to say it was wild and chaotic. Our child had two major injuries while attending this school both due to lack of supervision, one that resulted in 7 stitches, and the other where both of his permanent front teeth were broken.

I guess it is school by school though, because my younger son goes to Bryant and things seem much more under control. Much more playground supervision, rules that are enforced, and a strong anti bullying policy that is taken very seriously.

My advice to the poster above would be to try another school before you leave SPS. And then advocate at the district level for stronger supervision.